The words tell one story and the pictures another in this charming tale from master picture book creator Jon Agee.
The story is told from the first-person point of view of a boy astronaut, who has traveled to Mars in his spaceship to find life. In his hand is a gift with a pretty red bow, which we learn are chocolate cupcakes. Just after he begins his trek and tells readers that everyone doubts he’ll find life on Mars, we see a wordless spread in which an alien creature—tall, rust-colored, googly-eyed and pointy-eared—pops his head out of a crater.
The boy continues to talk to the reader (or perhaps out loud to himself), losing faith all the while. He sees no life on Mars—though this large Martian follows him and reacts to the boy’s running commentary. Agee draws the Martian rather large and pear-shaped, making it look downright huggable and often vulnerable. The Martian is truly baffled by the boy’s pretty awful grasp of the obvious. Eventually, the Martian picks up the gift the boy hopelessly drops as he heads back to look for his spaceship. On his way, the boy spots a bright yellow flower and is relieved and elated to have discovered life after all. He retrieves his box, crawls across the Martian itself (thinking it’s a mountain) and heads back to Earth. Feeling like he deserves a treat, he opens his box of cupcakes while in his spaceship to discover . . . crumbs.
Child readers will thrill in being one-up on the protagonist in this tale, which is also a wonderful read-aloud. Cue the laughter of young children when they see the reactions of the Martian behind the boy. “Mars looks pretty gloomy,” the boy says, as the friendly Martian frowns, hands on hips. The final page, wherein the boy discovers that, indeed, there was more life on Mars—and more than just a plant—is a moment funny and tragic, all at once. (And quick! Grab the elementary students learning about inferencing, because that moment is inferencing gold.)
Out of this world.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.